How do you like to move your body? Are you moving mindfully, joyfully, or are you exercising or playing sports? Movement, in whichever form, is a key component in eating disorder recovery and in promoting overall mental and physical health. The goal is to connect with your body and find which types of movement feel good.
However you move, especially while recovering from an eating disorder, can depend on what works best for you and the recommendations from your treatment team. The great news is that there is a little bit of something for everyone. There’s mindful movement, where you focus on breathing, move with intention and mindfully connect with your body. There’s joyful movement, like dancing or playing hopscotch, where we move for the fun of it. There’s exercise, like running or strength training, which is a little more strenuous with cardiovascular and muscle involvement. And there are sports, whether we play after school or work, in a league, professionally or just for fun. Whatever you are doing, take inventory of what feels best for your body and your intention behind it.
A Closer Look at Movement Types
Let’s take a closer look at the different types of movement and discover which works best for us individually to improve our mind-body connection.
Mindful movement entails that you move with intention, place your attention on your breath, and helps you connect with your body. Common forms of mindful movement include walking and yoga, sometimes with some mindful meditation thrown in. This type of movement helps you improves focus, practice understanding and listening to your needs, relieves anxiety and stress, and improves sleep and mood.1
Joyful movement is when we can find the joy in moving your body. The focus here is more about having fun and hanging out with others. If it’s so fun and easy, is this still considered movement? Yes! Any time we move our bodies intentionally can be considered your form of movement. Some joyful movement examples include dancing, hopscotch, frisbee, obstacle courses, rock climbing, and going on a walk or hike.
Exercise is a common form of movement, which includes cardio, like running, and strength training, like weightlifting. Often during and after recovery, the word “exercise” becomes stigmatized and deemed as harmful. The truth is that exercise, as a form of movement, is OK and can be beneficial as long as we are aware of what, when and why we are moving and that those reasons are aligned positively for our health. Sometimes we need the help of our treatment team to figure out what’s best. It’s also OK if you don’t like to or don’t want to use exercise as your choice of movement.
When exercising, it’s important to be sure we are nourishing and fueling our bodies appropriately before, during and after. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water! Keep in mind your intention throughout the experience and be flexible with the frequency and duration. You want to enjoy your movement but keep it from becoming an obsession. Remember to work with your treatment team, especially your physician and dietitian, for medical stabilization and nutrition guidance. Benefits of exercise include:
- Increasing your ability to manage your emotions and improve your mood;
- Improvements to your GI tract;
- Strengthening your heart, bones, and muscles;
- And improvements in sleep.2
Sports and athletics are a great way to include some team spirit into your movement, which is a sure way to have fun and can also increase an individual’s self-esteem. Check in with your intentions regularly and stay alert for red flags. Are you returning to sports because of your genuine love for it or does it feel like a chore? Keep your treatment team close! Before returning to sports, you will have to be cleared by your physician and dietitian to ensure all vitals are stable, weight stabilization (if applicable) is constant and that you are fueling sufficiently for your sport. Also loop in your coach so they are aware that you are in recovery and can support you with your needs for rest, breaks and fueling.
Have Fun with Movement but Look for Any Red Flags
No matter which activity is right for you, just be sure to listen to your body and have fun. Viewing movement as joyful can help you find activities you love, and begin to repair your previous relationship with exercise, whether it was used as punitive means or avoided all together. This takes time and works simultaneously with one another. The mind-body connection will strengthen and develop as movement begins.
As you participate in movement, ask yourself the following questions, and reach out for help when you see any red flags.
- What am I doing? Is it something I enjoy that’s fun? Or something that’s hurting me or is more than I need?
- Why am I doing it? To nurture my mind, body and soul? Or are there other desires here such as changing our appearance, weight and muscularity? Intention is so important.
- How does it feel? Restorative or draining?
With movement, it is about experiencing and appreciating the amazing things your body can do. As you work through your eating disorder recovery, know that finding what works for you – including physical activities – will help you through this journey. Find what you love and make movement a joyful part of your life.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, Center for Discovery can help you find the support and treatment to finally heal.
Julia Cassidy, MS, RDN, CEDRS, is the director of nutrition and wellness for the adolescent programs at Center for Discovery. Julia has worked for Center for Discovery the past 17 years where she has been involved in the development of the dietary programs for the eating disorders division and mental health division of Discovery Behavioral Health. Julia is a certified eating disorder specialist supervisor and a licensed body positive facilitator. Julia is on the SIG Oversight Committee with AED (Academy for Eating Disorders) and she is the chair-elect for BHN (Behavioral Health Nutrition), Didactic Practice Group through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Julia is passionate about helping individuals heal the relationship with food and their body. Part of her work is teaching self-compassion and embracing the idea of total embodiment and food healing.
Related Articles from Center for Discovery
- Alliance of Eating Disorders; Can I Exercise During My Eating Disorder Recovery? By Brian Cook, PhD
- Hausenblas, Heather A.; Cook, Brian J.; Chittester, Nickles I. Can Exercise Treat Eating Disorders? Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews: January 2008 – Volume 36 – Issue 1 – p 43-47 doi: 10.1097/jes.0b013e31815e4040